Dr. Eggs Benedict and the Ivory Tower of His Benedict Option
Rough thought of the day, so let me put it in the mouth of Dr. Eggs Benedict, author of “What Do About Culture Wars?” In his chapter about post-secular asceticism (Can Postmillenial Christians Redeem Monastic Vocations, 2? (read: DOOMED PROJECT)), he suggests:
“Is good theology and philosophy possible and attainable for those with non-formal training in a world of affluence that has made our free-time exclusively that part of our lives which is for our entertainment and the good of those who love the steady, affluent stream of cheezburgerz + easy access to Thai food delivery services (read: CAPITALISTS), making money on our addictions to comfort + painless pleasure (testimony: meat is now made with FLOUR (i.e. “we’re all gonna die” – Sufjan Stevens)), avoiding theoretical thought like it done be a delivered sign and seal of what is not ours (all is vapor, saieth the Preacher—get you gone, Von Hugel, Homer preached nothing but original sin!!! the…er…sin of finitude?)—or at least those who leave theoretical thought up to those others (over there, standing apart, holy, secure, worshipful in all their footnotated lives, satisfied with that one epiphany at twenty-three, defend it: self-criticize! o, but careful, child, careful or you might destroy the very foundation of your career (read: your cheezburgerz)
“What about those who treat theoretical thought like a ball to throw around when you’re drunk (or under the desire to impress girls *insert voice break* “what ever happened to singleness? I’ll stand up for it! I am kind, smart, and important—so please marry me now”), an activity as free and non-effecting and incapable of permeating our lives as the epiphany did for the single twenty-three year old philosissimo up until he popped in a VHS for season one of “Friends”—and civilization and many shed tears cascaded down from there, my two-and-a-half men. O, community, o spiritual friendship, it comes only at the price of gentle laughter—and a dusty thrift store purchase at the odd price of .97 cents.
“Gluttons! we’d like to say. Don’t we now see our fantastic opportunity in our affluence to use our leisure to progress philosophy or, em, contemplation and all those other disciplines that require nothing more than a lot of observation, description, comparison, and thinking for anybody who’d like to chime in amongst a multitude of those who will hold their thoughts accountable to the substandards of the professional community?
“Or, is the amateur thinker required to carry with him a passport at all times, handed out by the Machine (so rage, such bad) to pay a license fee before having the right to think and offer his beliefs, his experiences, his trusts? Are only a few allowed to be part of that discussion between mortal dudes and gals that spans the AGES?!
Grand thoughts: attainable now, four books feed me, but a little rest, a little folding of the hands—and then I can finally get to work. After all, there’s a lion on my desk, the COMPUTER: how are we expected to get any work done, anyhow?
“Some Machine must have illuminated all them dudes/gals by means of Mammon!
“I think, in my humble opinion, respectfully, giving dues where Dews be dude, everyone is encouraged to have their ivory tower and everyone would do well to meet commonly every now and then, as is the habit of some, 70 men in 70 ivory towers coming together in the center to compare notes on what’s going on, brother. But, I see picket lines and people punishing one another with brutality of speech—can we be free enough to first pick ourselves apart, before worrying about who might be setting us up? Don’t we set ourselves up? How can we take down what we set up for ourselves?
“Let me repeat that same question for you in an entire chapter dedicated to refute concerns no one actually had. And let me reinforce my point by not connecting my thoughts at all.”
Excerpt from Chapter 2: “How Is All This Exactly Not Related?”
“A cenobitic monastery—the architecture of the place. Individual cells stacked around the center like the combs of a hive, a common room in the middle—why isn’t that our model for leisure?
“We love balls and love to know how to throw them across very helpful lawns, full of edible tomatoes and onions—for the kids. We love to make rules for games after skύl, nevermind the tomatoes, grab a bag of frozen Nomeatos (just pop ’em in the oven, bro).
“OR: if you dislike all of this, if you’re curious about what I “really” think: why not just form a new career? The generalist prophet. Why does no one feel called to live in a shack and be that wild philosopher, that persona Annie Dillard knit together in the womb of a pilgrim that never really existed and put on her skeletal shoulders in the harsh cold of the concrete jungle (where’s the grass? asks Arcade Fire: haven’t you ever seen a lawn?).
“I think it’s high-time we capitalize on a new vocation, one born out of affluence and asceticism. It is necessarily viable in our time.”
Chapter 3 of the Abridged “What Do About Culture Wars?” entitled “What Do About Generalist Prophets…Do?”
“What would a generalist prophet need? What would be the toolbox of his virtues? On top of the list, I think, would be meekness. He has a vision, but knowledge does not puff him up. The second would be mentorship. He has mentors, people to respect, admire, and learn from. A generalist prophet would need unlike our typical conception of theoretical thought—or even of something as casual and supreasy as cultural criticism—which assumes that the prophet is a tour de farce, stands apart, aside. The prophet is actually a person who has decided to use his life as a mouthpiece for truth, a student, a conduit, a slave.*
“*end paragraph for emphasis.
“The main sacrifice that a generalist prophet would have to make is of creature comforts. On the line from gratitude for gifts on one side and sacrificing non-necessary gifts for others (both good things), he has chosen the latter more than the former—and he exchanges common gifts for more obscure pleasures that are nevertheless still just as creaturely. While he has a high capacity to be free from loneliness, he will yet be alone. That is the nature of his career. His community is one of mentors and friends, not family and lovers. And like all other vocations, he cannot—must not—elevate his ambition and confidence to the same place as a job done, a life fulfilled, a message heard…
“To conclude: the beating heart of his vocational joy is work done in obedience—happiness is just a run-off.” – Dr. Eggs Benedict, professor of breakfast at Biola University